Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER I.

ORIEL COLLEGE, OXFORD.

THE year 1830 ushered in a new era, and the

commencement of that formidable struggle between the Church on the one hand and her political and dissenting opponents on the other, which has gone on with increasing force from that time to this. In that year the Whig party, which had been in opposition, with short intervals, for sixty years, became dominant in the State, and it was supposed that their return to power boded no good to the Church. The first blow had already come from a Tory Government. The repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts in 1828, the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829, so strengthened the hands of the opponents of the Church that they seemed to have the world before them, and to have only to strike in order to destroy. A spirit of reform in the State was abroad, and reform in the State implied reform in the Church also. It was evident that when everything was in motion, the Church would not be suffered to stand still. A climax clearly was at hand; pamphlets and newspapers were violent in their cries against the Church. They attacked her on the ground of her enormous wealth, which they exaggerated ten-fold; of her antiquated forms, of her state-monopolies, of the tithes of her Rectors, the Baronies of her Bishops, on Church-rates, and every part of the Establishment a.

Events, such as the repeal of those Acts which we have mentioned, which appeared to good and wise men at the time to threaten the downfall of the Church, now that they are viewed in the light of history, are known to have been to her advantage. We may go further, and say that the repeal of those Acts was a happy circumstance, and that for a double reason: firstly, because it removed the only remaining causes of complaint which Nonconformity could reasonably entertain ; and secondly, because it awoke the Church out of her slumbers, and showed her that unless she set her house in order, a worse thing would happen to her.

With the advent of the Whigs to power in 1830, a new phase in the relations between Church and State commenced. The Reform Bill of 1832, the consolidation by Parliament, in close succession after that event, of ten Irish Bishoprics, a threatened attack upon the Book of Common Prayer, showed unmistakably that danger was imminent, and warned the Church of what she might expect, if she should ever drift, as appeared only too probable, into a mere department of the State.

• Mozley's Essays, ii. 26.

A complete change was made by the Reform Bill in the relations between Church and State b. The Sovereign, indeed, remained nominally in communion with the Church, but the advisers of the Crown, those in whom the highest Church appointments are vested, might thenceforward be her deadliest foes. The State was no longer in the position of a Church-member, but an alien from the Church; when Rationalists, and Deists, and Socinians, and Roman Catholics were admitted into Parliament and allowed to legislate for the Church, a very different condition of things was inaugurated from that which existed before, when Church and State were only different aspects of the same community. It will naturally be asked what were the Bishops doing in their place in Parliament when the Reform Bill was submitted to it. Unfortunately the Bishops, and not for the first time in the history of the Church, took the very opposite course to that which they ought to have taken. Instead of submitting to Parliament the altered relations which were created between Church and State by the admission into Parliament of Dissenters and the avowed enemies of the Church;

• The effect of the Reform Bill, the Duke of Wellington said, would be to transfer "power from one class of society, the gentlemen of England, professing the Faith of the Church of England, to another class of society, the shopkeepers, being dissenters from the Church, many of them Socinians, others Atheists.”—Croker Papers, ii. 206.

instead of insisting upon this change as a reason why the same rights as were allowed to Dissenters—the right to regulate its own affairs and to legislate for itself-should be accorded to the Church; a claim so reasonable in itself, that, especially at a time when the votes were so sorely needed “, government would have gladly granted it, they lost the golden opportunity, which never again returned ; by the course they took they exasperated a government, already unfriendly, in its hostility to the Church; they disgusted those who were willing to be their friends; they increased the hostility of their enemies; the people showed their feelings by publicly insulting them - at Bristol the Bishop's Palace was burnt down—and far worst of all, the impression thenceforward became general, that the Church was opposed to and the Dissenters were the friends of the liberties of the people.

Danger also threatened the Church from within. The Evangelical party had lost the fervour of its first love, and had passed from its early zeal into unreality and indifference; the High Church party was still asleep; it is true that amongst the latter

• In the first Reform Bill of 1831, twenty-one Bishops, either personally or by proxy, voted against it, only one Bishop, Maltby of Chichester, voting for it, and one, Bathurst of Norwich, by proxy; and when the Bill was carried in 1832, it was only by nine votes in the House of Lords.

signs of amendment had already begun, but this was confined to one or two localities, and was far from general, and individual efforts were unable to stem the tide; the progress of decay was rapidly progressing ; by both parties, Evangelical and orthodox, the claims of the Church, as a member of the Catholic Church of Christ, were disregarded ; by the former they were unknown, or considered as hindrances of the spiritual life; by the latter as dormant traditions without any practical reality.

Moreover, a Latitudinarian spirit was again raising its head aloft, with which original thinking and a free handling of divine truth was the professed object. A new, or rather a revived, school of thought, regardless of what others had written before them, and even boasting that no authorities were consulted, set themselves to elaborate out of their own brains a system not founded on history, or the Fathers, or the Church, but on a half-digested German theory served up in a new form, professing to solve the highest mysteries of the Faith by some no less mysterious mode of reasoning, and frequently ending in the revival of an exploded heresy. Even at Oxford, the supposed seat of orthodoxy, and especially at Oriel, at that time intellectually the leading College in the University, a speculative liberalism had struck root : two opposing schools of thought were struggling together in the womb, and at one time it appeared only too probable that the

« PreviousContinue »